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Vol. 78/No. 43      December 1, 2014

Syria: Kurds open another
front against Islamic State
(front page)

It’s been more than two months since Islamic State began its assault against Kurdish forces in Kobani in northern Syria, expecting that the city would easily fall as had been the case with large swaths of Syria and Iraq over the past year. But not only have Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) pushed back Islamic State forces from major parts of the city, Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria — who have been blocked from joining the battle for Kobani by the Turkish government — have launched an offensive there to retake areas from Islamic State, opening a new front to divert the reactionaries’ forces.

Meanwhile, Washington has been slowly increasing U.S. troop deployment as part of a plan to bolster Baghdad’s armed forces to fight Islamic State and to serve as a counterweight to the growing strength and confidence of the oppressed Kurdish people.

In Kobani, Kurdish fighters “are moving freely between the city’s neighborhoods following victories against IS militants,” said Feras Hamza, an aid worker in the field hospital there, according to ARA News Nov. 17. But Islamic State forces “continue shelling the city’s neighborhoods from long distances, causing significant damage to civilian property.”

The YPG stated that Kurdish forces recently killed 28 Islamic State fighters, including three of the group’s commanders, all of them “princes” in territory controlled by the caliphate — two in Kobani and one near the town of Sere Kaniye in northeastern Syria.

Kurdish forces have recently driven Islamic State out of several villages near Sere Kaniye. The operation involves “easing the burden on Kobani through opening more than one front against the IS, ” Orhan Baghok, of the YPG Media Center, told ARA News, to “weaken its ability and disperse its forces.”

Fighting alongside the YPG are more than 150 Peshmerga soldiers with heavy weaponry brought from the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, as well as a growing number of Syrian opposition units affiliated to the Free Syrian Army — a coalition of armed groups that came together in 2011 following the bloody crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on popular protests against his regime. “We promised to the YPG,” Ebu Levla, commander of the Shams Al Shamal Battalion, which is affiliated with one of the FSA factions, told Firatnews, “to never leave Kobani alone. We will be fighting alongside the YPG till the victory.” Levla said that his forces are also working with YPG in fighting against Islamic State in other parts of Syria.

The big-business press has covered little on the gains being made by the Kurdish struggle, except in a few cases expressing concern over the potential consequences for the further unraveling of the capitalist political order in the region, which was stitched together with the drawing of borders by the imperialist victors after World War I.

The YPG, with more than 30,000 fighters, has said it’s willing to work with Washington in driving Islamic State out of northern Syria, notes the Wall Street Journal. “One of the many political complications facing the U.S. in the arrangement is that these Kurdish fighters — an offshoot of a group designated by the U.S. and Turkey as a terror organization [Kurdistan Workers Party of Turkey] — want to keep control of the territory they have seized,” the paper said.

“We are ready to cooperate with anyone who respects the will of our people and accepts us as we are,” Hussein Kocher, a 40-year-old YPG local commander, told the Journal. The paper reported that a U.S. State Department official said that cooperation wouldn’t mean Washington recognizes Kurdish self-rule.

Meanwhile, Assad’s forces continue their assaults against areas controlled by opposition forces. An airstrike Nov. 14 on a residential building in the town of Saqba near the capital Damascus killed at least nine people, including three children, with more likely buried under the rubble, reported the Associated Press.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq
Earlier this month, Obama doubled the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to nearly 3,000. The move comes amid a debate and growing pressures within the ruling class toward further military moves in Iraq.

Baghdad will need about 80,000 effective military troops to retake territory from Islamic State, including the city of Mosul, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing Nov. 13. Five months earlier 60,000 troops from the Iraqi army completely disintegrated in battle against 1,200 Islamic State fighters who seized control of one-third of Iraq and much of its heavy weaponry provided by Washington.

An offensive by Iraqi forces next spring is unrealistic, former Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi told Foreign Policy magazine. The Iraqi army will need at least a year and a lot of U.S. assistance, he said.

Dempsey told the congressional hearing that when Iraqi forces launch a drive to retake Mosul this could require further assistance by U.S. forces. “I’m not predicting at this point that those forces would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces,” he said, but he is “certainly considering it.”

Peshmerga units in Iraqi Kurdistan haven’t received any of the promised heavy weaponry from Washington or other imperialist powers, except for a shipment of German anti-tank missiles, according to Kurdistan Regional Government officials. Recently they asked the Pentagon for mine-resistant armored vehicles and technology, such as bomb-defusing robots, to counter improvised explosive devices. While the Pentagon said it is reviewing the request, it has told KRG officials that they must also get agreement from the Iraqi government in Baghdad.  
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